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Insurers use of drones in surveillance of disability claimants

When you are ill or injured to the point where you had to file a claim for disability benefits under your disability insurance policy, it can be disheartening to learn that during the initial review process or even while on claim that your insurance company put you under surveillance. You filed your claim in good faith, expecting fair and reasonable treatment; instead, your insurer used some form of surveillance to “catch” you being active.

Why surveillance?

The idea behind surveillance is to see if a claimant is engaging in activities that would suggest they are not really as functionally disabled as they claim in an attempt to deny or terminate benefits. Often the surveillance footage is innocuous. Three days of surveillance may yield a total of 30 minutes of videoed activity, none of which proves the insured has the ability to return to full time work. Yet the insurance company will rely use the insured’s ability to grocery shop briefly or get gas to suggest they are exaggerating their limitations and could work.

Surveillance types

Historically, insurance companies used private investigators to conduct surveillance. These investigators trailed a claimant throughout the day, taking videos of whatever action they observed. In the last few years, the internet and social media opened entirely new ways to investigate disability claimants and their activities. Now entire companies specialize in online surveillance of claimants for insurers.

More recently, a few insurance companies have conducted surveillance via drones. The Balance Small Business reports that insurers began using drones around 2013 and that they have helped insurers save money and time.

It remains to be seen how widespread this becomes in the context of disability insurance, but according to an article in the Claims Journal commercial drone use is under consideration. Drones can obviously take images other methods cannot.  

A risk expert interviewed for the article noted that one reason drone use has not yet been widely utilized is that insurers worry that a drone could cause injury or property damage or violate a legal right to privacy, opening an insurance company to legal liability.

Issues for disability claimants

It is a smart idea to enlist an experienced lawyer for professional assistance with a disability claim, especially if the insurer is relying on surveillance to assert that the claimant is not disabled. Just because social media shows a claimant at a birthday party having fun or the claimant is seen walking for exercise, that is not proof that he or she does not have a disabling illness or injury. People post smiling pictures on social media and many doctors encourage their patients to engage in social activity or exercise as part of treatment.

A skilled attorney will know how to counterbalance evidence collected via surveillance that is only a snapshot of a claimant’s day. If you have questions about your claim or think your insurance company has been surveilling you, please feel free to contact us at (888) 644-2644 or www.dilawgroup.com.

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